(Originally published on June 28, 2011)
by Jill Dalton
Van Jones is calling all people of conscience who care about America to get involved, stand up and help rebuild the American Dream.
Thursday evening I attended the “Rebuild the Dream” event in New York City hosted by Van Jones, featuring the musical group ROOTS with Shepard Fairey DJing. Honestly I went to hear Jones but also to see Fairey whose “Make Art Not War” poster hangs in my living room.
I didn’t know much about Jones except he was Obama’s Green Energy czar and was thrown under the bus when he was labeled a radical, leftist, commie, raised by Black Panthers or some other such nonsense by the king of fear mongering and right wing echo chamber lies, Glenn Beck.
I admit I was skeptical. Is this a front group for Obama’s reelection campaign because honestly if that’s what this is I’m not interested. I’m suffering from buyer’s remorse like many progressives but decided to keep an open mind.
Jones took the stage before a packed house and proclaimed, “We are being lied to.” And we’re not stupid enough to fall for it. The lies we’ll break down tonight are: America is broke. Taxing the rich would hurt America’s economy and be a job killer. And the most patriotic thing we can do is to dismantle the government and wreck it. Okay he got my attention.
Jones grew up in West Tennessee, attended church, Bible study, public schools and his father, who served in the military police, sent him and several other members of their family to college. He sent Van to Yale Law School where he felt tricked by the poverty and injustice he saw around New Haven. Jones rebelled against his father’s ideals and ended up on the “left side of Pluto” as he called it. He headed to Oakland, CA and worked in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America trying to keep kids out of jail by getting them into jobs but was attending more funerals than graduations. He learned, “Angry rhetoric may feel good but it doesn’t make a difference. Education is the key to opportunity and nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Jones ended up coming full circle back to the values his father taught him. Being an Army brat myself who rebelled against everything my father stood for I understand this quite well.
Jones became emotional, as did I, when he spoke of his father and the lessons he taught him. Including, “Nobody can give you anything that stops you from being poor. Every poor kid has to climb that ladder out of poverty. It’s about personal responsibility and society has a responsibility to give us a ladder to climb.” The American Dream for his father was the belief that if you worked hard you could create a better life for yourself and your family. Then he asked, “Why are we allowing the ladder of opportunity to fall over without a peep of protest?”
“This is about to change,” he continued, “and change starts with telling the truth.”
Lie #1. America is broke.
“Wrong,” says Jones. Wall Street doled out its largest bonuses ever. Corporations have experienced their highest profits in history. This lie is very dangerous. If we accept this lie soon other beliefs seem acceptable, i.e. we can’t afford Medicare, we need to lay off teachers, firefighters, police, nurses, take away heating assistance, healthcare and infrastructure. News flash: We are still the richest country in the world. Our economy is almost as big as two Chinas.
America is not broke. We were robbed. So who has all the money that use to be in our pockets, schools and retirement accounts?
Wall Street has $144 Billion.
Fighting two wars on a credit card – $1.3 Trillion.
Bush Tax cuts for the rich – $42 Billion every fiscal year.
Corporations paying less or $0 in taxes.
To me these numbers seem too conservative.
His solution: Tax Wall Street gambling, wind down these wars responsibly, roll back the Bush tax cuts and close corporate loopholes. If we’re broke why are only some of us suffering? 83% of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1% of the people. Since 1975 only the top 5% can keep up with housing costs. 21% of American children live in poverty.
We use to have a social contract between American corporations and the rest of us. Corporate and workers growth use to be linked together but that changed in 1980 and today the gap is the largest in history. Income for the rich has grown 250% while the middle class is barely making 20% more after 30 years. Both parents must work to keep up and when that doesn’t work we max out our credit cards, use our homes as ATM’s trying to keep up.
Then the crash came. We’re told there are institutions too big to fail but the only thing too big to fail is the American people. The United States of America is too big to fail.
Lie #2. Asking the super rich to pay taxes hurts America’s economy.
Pardon me but corporate taxes are not charity. Never forget every American enterprise is blessed to do business with the American people. Corporations use our roads, court system, 911 service, and our educated workers. Our tax dollars pay for these services and we deserve their support in return. Jones proclaims, “If you do well IN America then you should do well BY America.”
We support patriotic corporations that hire American workers and pay their taxes instead of hiding their wealth off shore. Big corporations that create jobs elsewhere, build plants elsewhere–that’s what we’re mad about.
Our grandparents respected business but they did not worship corporations and markets. Our grandparents, because they suffered through the Great Depression, made sure we had a good government that supplied education, protected clean air and water, along with good employers who paid a living wage and taxes and good citizens who were involved in making America stronger. Unions that gave workers a voice where markets profited without minimizing people are being demonized. Today only 13% of workers are in a union. We support unions. Unions are the key to a thriving middle class.
Protections were put in place such as the Glass-Steagall Act making it illegal for Wall Street to gamble with our money. But over time we allowed lobbyist to deregulate Wall Street and the too big to fail banks just like the 1920’s. The motto became, “Privatize the gain. Socialize the pain. No rules for the rich. No rights for the poor. Socialism for the rich. Darwinism for the poor.” The people who created the collapse say, “Oh well, nothing we can do about it now. Just shut up and sit down.” But turns out if we just go back to Clinton era taxes and end these wars we can end the deficit in 10 years. We can have peace and prosperity instead of war and austerity.”
Jones frames this fight as a very small number of people against the United States of America, the American Dream and everything we hold dear. GREED. We say no way. We must stand together and fight.
Lie #3. Hating America’s government and wrecking Americas’ infrastructure is patriotic.
They have painted the wrecking ball red, white and blue and expect us to salute. No way. Cheerleading for rich people to destroy our government. No way. The only people who talk worse about America’s government are our sworn enemies. Their contempt for America’s government perfectly matches their plans for the American people. Paul Ryan’s budget would knock out more infrastructure then our sworn enemies ever could. It would kill Medicare and the states and cities would sit down more first resonders then our sworn enemies ever dreamed of. How does knocking out first responders make you a patriot? It’s time for us to set aside what he calls “cheap patriotism” in favor of “deep patriotism.”
In conclusion Jones affirms, contrary to what the media would have us believe, we are not helpless. That hope and change is dead is the biggest lie. The media is all impressed because the Tea Party had 150,000 in DC. We had 150,000 in the streets of Madison, WI alone. Thousands marched on Wall Street. People are demonstrating from Ohio to Montana. Don’t let the media convince you we don’t matter.
Jones’ plan is to rebuild the American Dream by launching a nation wide movement to find the best ideas in our country. This is a people powered movement not based on a single person. . Our slogan was never “Yes HE can!” It was, “Yes WE can!”
On July 5th Jones is calling on Americans to submit your best ideas online to show how to rebuild the American Dream. July 16 and 17 in every congressional district in America we will meet to discuss these ideas, figure out what ideas make sense, what works and build a document for the “Contract for the American Dream.” We will vote and ratify this document and march on it to make it happen. It is up to us to fight for it.
Here’s my take: We can’t afford to sit around believing someone will save us. It ain’t gonna happen. Barack Obama had his chance and he chose power over principle, corporations over people and war over peace. Congress isn’t going to do it. The Supreme Court, a majority of right wing ideologues that side with corporations, passed the Patriot Act giving corporations the same rights as people. Achieving social and economic gains in America has never been easy. These rights came through organized movements and now it’s our turn to stand up against the forces of hate, racism and tyranny and take our country back. We must fight for the America we believe in, the America my father and many other patriots fought and died for and “Rebuild the Dream.”
Now I may still be skeptical but do I really have more pressing things to do then helping to save our democracy? And for those of you who still say it’s a front group for Obama I say come join this grassroots movement to make sure it’s not. Got it? Got it.
The Rebuild the Dream website is: www.rebuildthedream.com